Jun 19, 2019

Silicon Valley wants to poach animal researchers to improve self-driving AI

Mice used to study ALS. Photo: Whitney Hayward/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Neuroscientists studying birds, mice, and fish are landing seven-figure salaries in Silicon Valley to help advance artificial intelligence for self-driving cars and more, reports Bloomberg.

The big picture: Tech companies are raiding universities for specialized animal researchers to help them understand how mice and other animals learn in hopes of teaching computers or autonomous vehicles to do the same.

  • "With whole new industries at stake, the race to unlock the secrets of the animal mind is getting weird," Bloomberg writes.

What's happening: Married Harvard neuroscientists Mackenzie and Alex Mathis record the decision-making activity of mice playing tiny video games, for instance. And Drew Robson and his partner, Jennifer Li, study zebra fish, a type of minnow whose bodies are transparent when they’re young, which allows researchers to observe their neurons at work.

  • The pair uses a special mobile microscope they developed to record which neurons are active while the fish swim, adapting to changing conditions.
  • It's similar to the way their Tesla's driving skills evolve with each Autopilot software update, Robson tells Bloomberg.

The bottom line: AVs need better artificial intelligence to advance beyond basic object recognition to human-like decision-making. They might learn a thing or two from mice and fish.

Go deeper: GM cars get new brains, nervous system for self-driving EV era

Go deeper

The right and left internet loves Anthony Fauci

Data: Newswhip; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

If you feel like you're suddenly spending a surprising amount of your days thinking and talking about Anthony Fauci, you're not alone. He's become the third-most talked about person online, according to data from NewsWhip provided to Axios.

Why it matters: Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health office that deals with infectious diseases, has quickly become a household name, and one of the few household names with (mostly) bipartisan credibility.

The push to multiply limited medical supplies

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Health care workers and the federal government are scrambling to stretch limited supplies of medical equipment.

Why it matters: We can’t manufacture enough medical masks or ventilators in time to meet the enormous surge in demand that's expected to hit in mid-April. The next-best thing is trying to make what we have last as long as possible.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,014,673 — Total deaths: 52,973 — Total recoveries: 210,335Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 244,678 — Total deaths: 5,911 — Total recoveries: 9,058Map.
  3. 2020 updates: The Democratic National Committee said its July convention will be postponed until August because of the coronavirus. A federal judge declined to delay Wisconsin's April 7 primary election.
  4. Jobs latest: Coronavirus unemployment numbers are like a natural disaster hitting every state.
  5. Public health latest: Anthony Fauci called for all states across the U.S. to issue stay-at-home orders. The FDA will allow blood donations from gay men after 3-month waiting period, citing "urgent need."
  6. Business latest: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said oil companies are eligible for aid from new lending programs the Federal Reserve is setting up, but not direct loans from his department.
  7. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Navy removes captain of aircraft carrier who sounded alarm about coronavirus.
  8. 1 future thing: In developing countries, consequences of COVID-19 could be deeper and far more difficult to recover from.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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